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Eyewitness reports: The 99% occupy Wall Street; The Battle of Brooklyn Bridge; Unionists join in

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com/AdrianKinloch.

[For more on Occupy Wall Street, click HERE.]

By Pham Binh, New York City

October 5, 2011 – First appeared at the Indypendent, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/Green Left Weekly with the author's permission -- The entrapment and arrest of 700 peaceful Occupy Wall Street (OWS) activists on the Brooklyn Bridge has created a huge wave of support for their movement. The number of daytime occupants in Liberty Plaza doubled or tripled from 100 the week prior to 200-300 this past Monday and Tuesday (October 3 and 4).

These people are the core who maintain the occupation of the plaza, making it possible for several hundreds and sometimes thousands to hold rallies in the late afternoon and participate in the open-mic speakouts and general assembly meetings in the evening.

The mood of the crowd is defiant and determined. Quite a few people were still unsure of how exactly they had been trapped by the New York Police Department (NYPD), but that did not matter.

What mattered was that OWS made front-page news in papers around the world along with its official list of grievances, undercutting naysayers who pretended it was a bunch of ignorant jobless kids without a clue as to what they want.

What mattered was that Transit Workers Union Local 100 backed up Friday’s solidarity speeches with action by filing an injunction against the city for ordering its drivers to bus arrested protesters to jail. The drivers cooperated with the orders, but only because armed high-ranking NYPD officers told them to do so. Who can blame the drivers? You never know which one of [the officers] might be the next Anthony Bologna.

Visit by a ‘one percenter’

On October 4, a brave soul named Steve from the 1% came to talk to the people in the park. He claimed to work for a nearby investment firm, and he certainly dressed, spoke and acted the part. Many of the activists questioned him and tried to debate him, but he gave them mostly suave evasions, which generated a lot of frustration among the crowd of that gathered around him.

A white Vietnam war veteran and hospice nurse (I never saw an old woman with a purple heart until today) asked Steve why should Medicare or social security be privatised using a voucher system? Why should the elderly and sick be forced to do with less during these hard times? Steve replied that he does not support these moves and believed in a “strong social safety net” (a direct quote).

Next, a middle-aged black guy named Keith Thomas (who later turned out to be a transit worker injured on the job) asked Steve whether or not Wall Street firms had any type of moral obligation to their employees. (Thomas was laid off from a Wall Street firm prior to his job in the transit system.) Steve agreed they have a moral obligation, but added that no entity, whether it was a corporation or government, had obligations that were set in stone.

When I heard this, I could not keep my mouth shut anymore and interjected, “so what about Medicare and social security? Those are obligations, right? And you said you supported them.” I pointed out that “too big to fail” banks enjoy a government guarantee that they would get bailed out again as in 2008. Not surprisingly, Steve did not take well to my line of questioning and left shortly there after. The crowd thanked him for having the dialogue, as did I, and we asked him to come again.

I doubt he will.

A people’s movement

In the course of the exchange, a number of things became clear.

First, Wall Street and corporate America will try to deflect responsibility for what OWS is upset about in the hopes that it falls for the [far-right] Tea Party mantra that “government is the problem”. When Steve said we should be protesting in Washington, D.C., demonstrators said Wall Street owns the government; some even went so far to say that Wall Street is the government.

Second, OWS has become what can only be described as a people’s movement. When you go into the park, it really is the 99% that you find there. Thomas later told me he felt like this was “just like 1968”. He said it evoked feelings in him he had not felt for a long time.

There is a feeling of empowerment, like justice is on our side, of good will and of seriousness of purpose in the air there that is very difficult to capture with mere words. Even pictures and video footage, worth many millions of words, cannot convey it.

You have to come to Liberty Park to experience it. And once you experience it, you cannot stop the inner urge you feel to fight and win, against all odds. It is this feeling that is propelling the movement into the most unlikely of places, like Mobile, Alabama.

I am not old enough to remember 1968, but I imagine this is what it was like.

The occupation in the last few days has become much more multi-racial than in the first and second weeks. I saw aging Vietnam veterans (some of them homeless), union workers, high schoolers, journalists from the corporate media, Laura Flanders, Michael Moore, Hispanic and African immigrants, low-wage workers who work nearby, retirees, disabled people and college students.

The class and racial breakdown of the occupants looks much more like that of a rush hour subway car in midtown Manhattan than an alternative music concert as it did previously.

If you hear otherwise, you are hearing lies.

The only people missing are the the Steves of the city, the 1%. They are asking their friends in the corporate media, “is this Occupy Wall Street thing a big deal? … Is this going to turn into a personal safety problem?”

Wall Street is worried about what this means.

And they are right to be. We are onto them.

The spirit of the Molly Maguires

The occupy movement is growing roots into all communities among all age groups and races. Everyone is bringing their issue to the table and receiving nothing but 100% support. There is not a progressive cause OWS will not get behind, nor an injustice that it will not try to address in some way.

Union members from New York City’s largest municipal workers' union, DC37, held a rally at OWS on October 3, as did the Teamsters who have been locked out by 1% auction dealer Sotheby's for months. There were quite a few members of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) there as well (their headquarters is two blocks away).

All of the middle-aged union members I saw were grinning from ear to ear, cheered by the defiant and militant spirit that was once the calling card of the US labour movement. Speaking of which, I ran into a young man at the October 3 occupation who said he was a descendant of the Molly Maguires. I never expected to hear that name at a protest in this day and age (they were framed and executed in the 1870s using the same methods the state of Georgia used to kill Troy Davis because they sought to organise Irish immigrant workers in Pennsylvania’s coalfields).

This young man, Mark Purcell, travelled from central Pennsylvania to OWS and said he planned to get involved in whatever occupation happens in Philadelphia. Mark told me he realised the system was totally corrupt when he worked at an Allentown warehouse as a temporary worker. He said the companies took advantage of undocumented immigrants since they have no legal rights or protections. The minute he complained about working conditions, the company he worked for told him to talk to the temp agency that was technically his employer, and the temp agency fired him. He was pissed that companies outsource labor to these agencies and use that to dodge responsibility for working conditions. “It’s bullshit”, he said.

Amen.

The spirit of the Molly Maguires lives on at OWS. On October 5, National Nurses United, 1199 Service Employees International Union (SEIU), SEIU Local 32BJ, the New York AFL-CIO, teachers (UFT), Communications Workers, Professional Staff Congress-CUNY, the NY Central Labor Council are all mobilising to rally and march to join OWS. And they have permits.

In addition to the alphabet soup of unions mobilising, student activists are organising walkouts from Hunter College, the New School (where professors issued a statement supporting their students’ walkout), and even New York University. Even the children of the 1% support OWS.

The last time the unions mobilised was back in May, when the UFT brought out over 10,000 during its contract negotiations with Mayor Bloomberg. The proceedings were tightly controlled and the messages carefully managed from above by union leaders.

This time, things will be different. The turnout will surprise everyone, and the message will not be handed down to the city’s workers and students from on high. “Students and labour can shut the city down”, we shouted at September 30’s rallies against police brutality.

Perhaps we were prescient.

[Pham Binh’s articles have been published by Asia Times Online, Znet, Counterpunch and The Indypendent. His writings on Occupy Wall Street and other topics can be found at http://www.planetanarchy.net/.]

Notes on the Battle of Brooklyn Bridge

By Billy Wharton, New York City

October 3, 2011 -- Bronx County Independent Examiner -- While crime rates in New York City soar the New York Police Department (NYPD) spent a good part of Saturday (October 1) entrapping and arresting hundreds of protesters who were moving across the Brooklyn Bridge. In the process, the police created an extremely dangerous situation for about 800 occupiers of the bridge who were effectively trapped – a police net on one side and the Hudson River on the other.

In the long run, the most dangerous thing the police may have created was opportunities for direct solidarity among hundreds of people who previously had only been united by a demand for an end to the rule of the rich.

On the bridge

We marched through downtown Manhattan. There were thousands of us – mostly young, many in the 20-30-year-old age group who are facing an economic system that offers no prospects for a future. The chants on the march were enlivening – “We are the 99%”, “All day, all week! Occupy Wall Street!” Better than just the words was the inviting approach offered by the protesters. Since we presented our selves as “the 99%”, everyone could and should be involved with our march. Much like previous protest movements in the US, the Occupy Wall Street participants were fighting for a better future for everyone – a future being stolen by the rich and corporations.

Inviting is just what the NYPD had done as the march approached the Brooklyn Bridge. After a brief stop at the lip of the bridge, cops cleared the way for both the pedestrian entrance and the roadway onto the bridge.  Protesters surged forward, rushing on to the expanse and claiming it for the people – “Whose bridge? Our bridge!”  A police escort on the right-hand side struggled to keep up the pace before disappearing about one-quarter of the way onto the bridge. With no police on the right-hand side, the protest flowed into the far right lane effectively shutting down car traffic while we made our way to Brooklyn Bridge Park.

After a brief stop for an exuberant dance party – this is a fun movement with a healthy sense of the ridiculous – the police re-appeared, this time with the dreaded NYPD nets. Chaos ensued and the crowd shifted dangerously back and forth, pushing now slightly panicking young people dangerously close the edge of the bridge. I joined with other more-seasoned activists in moving the protesters away from the edge and in asking them to sit down to reduce the possibilities of a tragic accident and to increase the ability to hold the space.

Police began to remove protesters one-by-one based on their gender. Protesters didn’t resist, but they also made clear that they were not afraid. Before being arrested most flashed the victory sign to the crowd or raised a fist into the air. This helped to stiffen the will of a crowd that had previously been in flux as a result of the aggressive police tactics. We were determined to resist with courage and dignity no matter how the police attempted to terrorise us. 

Under arrest

Once handcuffed and placed inside the van, a new community was created. People previously detached from one another were swiftly brought into a relationship where they needed mutual support. Luckily for me, we realised the order the police were arresting people, so I was arrested with three other of my fellow members from the Socialist Party USA. We were able to know how to support each other instantly and to offer the solidarity we showed toward each other to other people on the bus. We explained how to ease the pain of the police handcuffs to a slightly frantic teacher and discussed what the next steps of the process would be with someone from Greece who was not as aware of the US legal system. Plus we sang “This Land is our Land” and “The Internationale” on the police bus.

The arresting officer was a low-on-the-seniority-pole Chinese-American officer who preferred to stay on the back of the bus with us than to fraternise with other cops outside. His incessant chatting on an iPhone betrayed his real ideas – “Holy shit! These people are from everywhere. Even one guy from Greece.”  “This is total stupid.”  “What a waste of time, I’m never getting out of here.” Direct thoughts from a newbie police officer forced to the dirty work of them ayor and the police chief.

After a little over an hour, we were placed in a larger pen. An ambitious young occupier took on the task of counting those in the pen – about 116. We celebrated the fact that we outnumbered the arrest total of last week (80) and cheered and chanted for each person who joined us. Chants of “All day, All week – Occupy Wall Street!” rang throughout One Police Plaza. This fighting spirit helped to keep hopes up as we went through the tedious process of booking.

The arresting officer was right. Our fellow inmates really were from everywhere. A few short sketches of them will illustrate this.

A monk sitting in the first section of the cell, refused to identify himself to the police – he refused water, food and would not answer any questions they had. He met police with a blank stare and prepared for two more days in jail.

An electrician from Boston was confident that once “the unions got involved” the occupation movement would grow rapidly.

A fellow from Ecuador wasn’t even a part of the original protest. He was headed to Brooklyn when he saw the march and remembered the anti-capitalist marches he had been on in the past. He seemed proud to join us and sure that capitalism was in the process of devouring itself especially in “the advanced capitalist countries”.

Finally, another teacher who had spent a large chunk of his life in San Diego and had voted for my fellow Socialist Party member when he ran for office there, prepared to spend the entire night in jail as a result of his lack of official identification.

We supported each other in many ways and made sure to share any of the necessary things that were given to us by the police. I helped to pour the water, delivered in a huge jug. Others handed out food and milk – each ensuring that others had received enough. This was a spontaneous ethic of solidarity that defeats that notion that humans are automatically selfish or evil. 

Getting out

After many hours of waiting, slunk down in the holding pen – some able to sleep, others jabbering away about this or that while eating stale peanut butter sandwiches – we were released. The first exited the cells a little after 2 am, some nine hours after arrest on the bridge. The young sceptical officer who arrested us screwed up our comrade’s paperwork resulting in him waiting for more than one hour more. A female Socialist Party member was at a precinct a few blocks away and whisked over to join us. Finally, at around 4:30 am we had all been freed.

We sat down at a 24-hour Chinese restaurant to compare experiences and charges and enjoy some much deserved beer. Most of us received minor disorderly conduct charges, but one was faced with a felony charge of criminal riot. We discussed options we might have for legal representation and swapped stories about our jailers. 

Overall, we were, for a moment at least, happy. Happy to have made a contribution to a movement that so many people are paying attention to. Hopeful that this movement will grow to share our own anti-capitalist politics and build the power to transform society. And excited that Occupy Wall Street is employing the same direct action tactics that we have been promoting as democratic socialists for years. As we shared vegetable low mein and Chinese tea, we reaffirmed our commitment to change the world. Occupy Wall Street!

Socialists participate in the Battle of Brooklyn Bridge – Five arrested

By Billy Wharton

October 3, 2011 -- Members of the Socialist Party of New York City were arrested October 2 during a march over the Brooklyn Bridge as part of the ongoing Occupy Wall Street demonstration. Arrestees included Billy Wharton, co-chair of the Socialist Party USA, Lawrence Rockwood, chair of the Socialist Party of New York State, Kristin Schall, chair of the Socialist Party of New York City and SP-NYC members Nick Pelman and Nick Daka. The group faces misdemeanor charges for disorderly conduct and one felony charge for criminal riot. Court dates are set for mid-November.

The march and action on the Brooklyn Bridge were a part of the ongoing occupation of Downtown Manhattan by the activist group Occupy Wall Street. Socialist Party USA members have actively supported this occupation since its inception and will continue to collaborate with all those interested in challenging the power of the richest 1% and Wall Street.

Yesterday’s event, dubbed “the Battle of Brooklyn Bridge”, ensued after the New York Police Department trapped hundreds of demonstrators as they were attempting to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. Demonstrators held strong to their protest demands that they represented the 99% of population suffering as a result of the 2008 economic crisis. Protesters maintained a non-violent stance while occupying the bridge even in the face of aggressive NYPD policing.

“The media has claimed that the protesters have no demands”, said Billy Wharton, co-chair Socialist Party USA. “Socialists have demands. We want a democratic society – we demand healthcare for all, the right to a good job and to live in a peaceful, non-militaristic world. That’s what we were marching over the Brooklyn Bridge for.”

The five arrested socialists join dozens of other Socialist Party USA members who have participated in direct actions since the economic crisis began in 2008. These actions have challenged anti-union legislation, have opposed budget cuts and have called for an end to war and occupation. Direct action produces direct results.

For more information or to request an interview please contact: Billy Wharton (718) 869-2279 or email natsec@socialistparty-usa.org.

[Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and the editor of the Socialist WebZine. He is co-chair Socialist Party USA. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the NYC Indypendent, Spectrezine, Monthly Review Zine and Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. He can be reached at whartonbilly@gmail.com. Become a FAN on Facebook.]



Democracy Now! report on the October 5 trade union march through New York.

Trade unionists show solidarity on Wall Street

October 6, 2011 -- Socialist Worker (USA) -- The mood was jubilant as the organised labour movement and thousands of workers crowded the streets of lower Manhattan to march in the largest and most diverse demonstration to date of the Occupy Wall Street movement, reports Danny Lucia.

For more than a year, politicians and the press in the United States have pitted private-sector workers against those in the public sector, young people against their elders receiving social security, native-born against immigrants, and on and on. But yesterday, October 5, more than 20,000 people from all walks of life -- workers, students and the unemployed -- marched through downtown Manhattan with the response that has struck a nerve across the country: "We are the 99 percent!"

The demonstration, originally called by a coalition of New York City unions and community organisations, was the largest and most diverse action to date for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

"You can see such a great cross section of society", said investigative journalist and Blackwater author Jeremy Scahill. "From students to steelworkers to plumbers to transit workers to independent journalists -- some elected officials, though not enough -- all coming out together shows that momentum is starting to shift to the side of the people."

There was a palpable sense of excitement among many of the protesters, particularly those who have struggled through difficult years in the labor movement.

"I've been waiting for this movement for a long time", said Mike Hellstrom, principal officer of Laborers Local 1108. "This is the kind of movement needed in America today. The Occupy Wall Street movement has proven in the short term that it's sustainable, it's not a flash in the pan. The labor movement can bring these issues back to centerstage again."

From the front of the rally, Bob Master of the Communications Workers of America told the crowd: "Look around you. This is what democracy looks like. Occupy Wall Street captures the spirit of our time. This is Madison. This is Cairo. This is Tunisia. Occupy Wall Street has started a movement that we are all part of around the world."

This protest was very different from most labour demonstrations. For one thing, workers from different unions were intermingled throughout the crowd, indicating that most of them had come to the protest on their own rather than being mobilised by their unions. (The exception was the hundreds of members of National Nurses United who came from as far away as Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.)

And though most labour protests end promptly with people rushing home, nobody wanted to leave when this march reached the Occupy Wall Street encampment. Hundreds of union members hung around the encampment, listening to filmmaker Michael Moore address the crowd near Broadway, checking out the books donated to the "people's library" near Liberty Street, or heading down towards Church Street for the drum circle.

Students, non-union workers

But union members only made up a portion of the crowd. Several thousand students from New York University, Columbia and the New School formed a feeder march from Washington Square Park. And there were many unemployed folks and non-union workers -- people like Nelson, who came straight from his job at non-union FedEx, still wearing his uniform.

"They're always trying to pile more work on us", he said. "You do 40 stops, and they want 50. You do 50, they want 60." When Nelson marched with Occupy Wall Street earlier this week, it was his first protest. "I had never seen one before that was for me."

"There have been so many attempts to marginalise and dismiss what's been going on in the plaza", said journalist and Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein. "This just completely explodes the claim that it's just a bunch of hippy kids -- not that there's anything wrong with the kids in the park because there's amazing creativity in the way that they're organising. What we're seeing today is that their courage has inspired and excited the whole city. People seem to have been waiting for someone to invite them."

The one source of frustration during the otherwise celebratory march came once again from the police, who only allowed the march to use one lane of traffic, which considerably slowed the pace and provided a constant reminder of the police repression of Occupy Wall Street protesters the previous two weekends.

At the end of the march at Liberty Park, about 300 protesters broke off for an unpermitted march down to Wall Street. Police encircled them with orange mesh and conducted mass arrests. As this article went to press, videos of police use of pepper spray and physical assaults were popping up on the internet, and even Fox News reporters got maced and beaten.

Doug Singsen, an Occupy Wall Street activist and member of the International Socialist Organization, summed up the significance of the day:

Occupy Wall Street continues to pull in more people: workers, students, unemployed, everyone. If unions link up with occupations in other cities then this whole movement will deepen a great deal. [In New York] we have another labor rally a week from today that has the potential to be even bigger. And then there's an antiwar rally next weekend. So this shows no signs of stopping.

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